Covid is showing no signs of disappearing, mutations that are adept at evading the body’s defenses, and causing waves of infections two or three times a year may be the future of Covid-19. The virus has become more adept at reinfecting people. Some people are already getting re-infections – second infections with the newer versions of the variant — BA.2 or BA2.12.1 in the United States, or BA.4 and BA.5 in South Africa.
Third or fourth infections seem possible for some – even this year. And a small fraction may have symptoms that persist for months or years, a condition known as long Covid.
Early in the pandemic, it was thought that immunity from vaccination or previous infection would forestall most reinfections. The Omicron variant changed everything Unlike previous variants, Omicron and its many descendants seem to have evolved to partially dodge immunity. That leaves everyone — even those who have been vaccinated multiple times — vulnerable to multiple infections.
The new mutations have not altered the usefulness of the Covid vaccines. Most people who have received two or more doses will not become sick enough to need medical care if they test positive for the coronavirus. And a booster dose, like a previous bout with the virus, does seem to decrease the chance of reinfection — but not by much.
At the pandemic’s outset, many health professionals based their expectations of the coronavirus on influenza. They predicted that, as with the flu, there might be one big outbreak each year, most likely in the fall. The way to minimize its spread would be to vaccinate people before its arrival.
The coronavirus is behaving more like four of its close relatives which circulate and cause colds year-round. If reinfection turns out to be the norm, the coronavirus won’t be a once-a-year thing, and it’s not going to be a simple nuisance in terms of the morbidity and mortality it causes. It will continue to stress the health care system.
Infection by Omicron produces a weak immune response, which disappears quickly, compared with infections with previous variants. Although the newer versions of the variant are closely related, they vary enough that infection with one variant does not provide much protection against another variant.
The good news is that most people who are reinfected with new versions of Omicron will not become seriously ill. As for now, the virus has not hit upon a way to fully sidestep the immune system.
We may not have ended up in this predicament if people had taken the necessary precautions and isolated themselves when they got sick. If they had worn masks, and if they had gotten the vaccines.
Each infection gives the virus an opportunity to mutate, the more infections the more mutations. When the GOP decided, they were not going to wear masks or get vaccines they made significant contributions to creating this problem.